Overview of The Divorce Process

Nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce, yet for the most part, many of those people don’t realize what the divorce process entails. Initially, the divorce process will address the determination of immediate or temporary issues such as custody, support, where each will live, and financial matters. More often than not, people can resolve these issues with the help of a divorce attorney but sometimes, it is necessary for the court to resolve the issues, making a court hearing necessary. If you are one of those people considering divorce or are ready to file divorce proceedings, not only can a divorce lawyer help you through the divorce process, but because there are so many legal variables to consider, a family law attorney can lead you on a plain path without taking you through any wrong turns.

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Children and Divorce

Child Visitation
Each year there are approximately 15 million children in the United States alone who experience the end of the family as they had known when their parents divorce. During that experience, due to a great deal of emotional upheaval, parents sometimes behave poorly. Their motivation can stem from wanting full custody, better visitation rights, lower child support payments and a host of other things that impact on children. As parents start to move forward with the divorce, they should remember that children have little say in the matter of divorce therefore, it is important that parents implement the very best parenting skills they possess.

Children Experience a Great Loss During Divorce
When it comes to the dissolution of marriage, even though the parents want out of the marriage, it’s usually the children who experience the greatest loss. The stability they had known is changing and they don’t know what to expect. And because the parents are so caught up in their own pain, they don’t always realize that to a child it feels like they are losing everything. It is in fact a very frightening time for a child and requires great sensitivity to their needs. As parents, it is up to us to help our children make sense out of what’s going on in their lives so that they are not left feeling angry and frightened or left with a sense of distrust towards others.

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Divorce versus Annulment

by Brette McWhorter Sember, JD

There is a lot of confusion about the difference between a divorce and an annulment. There is also confusion between a legal annulment and a religious annulment.

A divorce is a legal end to the marriage — deciding all issues involved in the closure of the marriage and often assigning fault to one of the parties for the end of the marriage. The end result of a divorce is dissolution of the marriage. An annulment is also an end to the marriage and entails all the decisions a divorce involves if needed — property and debt division, custody, child support, and alimony. However, an annulment is a legal determination that the marriage was never valid in the first place.

An annulment determines that the marriage was not legal or valid when it was entered into and therefore never truly legally existed. The annulment legally erases the marriage, as if it never was. One important thing to note is that if you had children together during the marriage, the children are still considered to be legitimate — conceived in and born into a legal marriage and legal child of both of you. Annulments are more common with very short marriages, where one or both parties realizes rather quickly that a mistake was made, but it is certainly not unheard of for a much longer marriage to end in annulment. Alimony cannot be awarded in a judgment of annulment, since the court is deciding there was no legal marriage to begin with.

More information on the divorce process:
The Divorce Process

How to Get a Divorce

Legal Ease

Annulments are not available because you’ve changed your mind, aren’t happy, feel you made a bad decision, are abused by your spouse, or feel you’ve been treated unfairly. There has to be a legal basis for determining the marriage was not valid. In most states, the legal process for an annulment is much like that for a divorce. Similar papers are filed and similar hearings are held. An annulment can be contested, just as with a divorce. However, annulments are often agreed upon by both parties, and since they usually happen very early in a marriage, the process is generally quick and easy. Annulments are not very common, but a lot of people seem to think they ought to be able to get one. In fact, an annulment is really the exception to the rule and very few people actually do get them.

Reasons for Annulment

Each state has its own requirements for granting an annulment, but usually include the following:

•One spouse was underage at the time of the marriage
•One spouse misrepresented him- or herself to the other in some significant way (this often involves fraud of some kind)
•One spouse was mentally ill at the time of the marriage
•One spouse is unable or unwilling to consummate the marriage
•The parties are related to each other in a way that prevents marriage in that state
•One spouse was already married to someone else at the time of the marriage
•One spouse concealed or withheld important facts, such as having a disease, having previous children, being infertile, and so on.
Religious Annulment
A legal annulment is one granted by the court. It decides that legally there is no marriage. Once the marriage is annulled, you are a single person who has never technically been married. A religious annulment is entirely different. Religious annulments are granted by your religious institution. They have separate requirements and processes. Some people get a legal divorce and then seek a religious annulment so that they will be able to marry again in their church or temple. It is not always possible to obtain a religious annulment, so it is best to consult with your priest, rabbi, or other religious authority to learn what the requirements and steps are.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about an annulment is that it can’t undo the pain or hurt you have suffered. Even if your marriage is deemed legally or religiously void, it was real while you lived it, and the only way to deal with the pain is to cope with it directly.

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Mecklenburg judges fight proposed cuts

Letter says state’s $38 million budget trim would cost more than it would save.

 
By Gary L. Wright
gwright@charlotteobserver.com
Posted: Wednesday, Apr. 13, 2011

More Information

  • Legislators are considering a draft list of proposed cuts to state justice and public safety agencies of about $230 million. Here are some of the agencies and programs on the list, and the anticipated savings.

    DEPARTMENT OF CRIME CONTROL AND PUBLIC SAFETY

    Eliminate Alcohol Law Enforcement: $9.5 million

    Eliminate State Capitol Police: $3 million

    Reorganize National Guard support: $793,503

    Eliminate Civil Air Patrol staff: $147,657

    Eliminate Victim Assistance Network: $112,500

    Total full-time positions eliminated: 235

    Total proposed cuts: $14.5 million

    ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS

    Eliminate drug treatment courts: $2 million

    Eliminate family courts: $2.8 million

    Eliminate custody mediation: $2.5 million

    Full-time positions eliminated: 404

    Total proposed cuts: $38 million

    DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION

    Eliminate community work crews: $1.6 million

    Close additional prisons (locations not specified): $5.4 million

    Replace prison chaplains with volunteers: $3 million

    Close Black Mountain Substance Abuse Treatment Center: $2.3 million

    Full-time positions eliminated: 733

    Total proposed cuts: $70.6 million

    DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DELINQUENCY PREVENTION

    Close Swannanoa Youth Development Center: $4.4 million

    Reduce court counselors: $3.6 million

    Eliminate Buncombe detention facility: $1.1 million

    Eliminate chaplains: $248,016

    Full-time positions eliminated: 244

    Total proposed cuts: $16.5 million

Mecklenburg District judges are urging state lawmakers to reject a budget proposal that would eliminate funding for family courts, child custody mediation and drug treatment courts.

In a letter to N.C. Rep. Harold Brubaker, the judges said family court and mediation have proved to be the most “cost-effective means for providing access to District Court for families in crisis.”

Brubaker is the senior chairman of the House appropriations committee.

“Eliminating these services will cost the citizens of North Carolina much more, in financial and human terms, than maintaining them at current funding levels,” the judges wrote in an April 7 letter.

The letter is signed by Chief District Court Judge Lisa Bell and 19 other Mecklenburg district court judges.

In a separate letter to the House and Senate appropriations committees, Mecklenburg District Judge Theo Nixon wrote that the first drug treatment court was created in Mecklenburg County 1995 by a group of progressive court officials.

“The archaic approach of simply incarcerating drug offenders and addicts was not only counterproductive but perpetuated the endless cycle of drug abuse, arrest, prosecution and incarceration,” Nixon wrote.

Legislators are considering a draft list of 71 proposed trims that seeks to slash about $230 million from the state’s justice and public safety programs – prompting protests from a variety of public safety officials and advocates across the state.

The proposed cuts would chop $38 million from the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts – and would eliminate family courts ($2.8 million); custody mediation ($2.5 million); and drug treatment courts ($2 million.)

Eliminating drug treatment courts, Nixon wrote, “makes little economic sense.”

Nonviolent offenders addicted to drugs or alcohol attend treatment programs instead of going to prison.

Last fiscal year, North Carolina spent an average of $27,134 for each inmate incarcerated, the judge said. Drug treatment court participants are supervised by probation officers at a cost of $1,256 a year for each offender, he said.

“Drug treatment court graduates are remaining drug- and alcohol-free, raising healthy children, participating in their communities, attending and completing school, working and paying taxes,” Nixon wrote.

The 20 judges who protested the elimination of family court said the effort is crucial because it maintains communication with litigants, many of whom are without lawyers and need assistance in navigating the legal system.

“The apparent savings from eliminating these vital services are illusory,” the letter said.

SOURCE: Joint Appropriations Subcommittee of Justice and Public Safety
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Pro Bono Offers Career Hope in Bleak Legal Market

The news about law jobs is not good these days. The legal job market recently hit a three year low, law firms are dissolving or laying off lawyers, and potential summer associates are finding that job offers are being rescinded before they can accept them.  Even for those with job offers in hand or for current junior associates, the job market can seem precarious and daunting.  For recent law graduates without jobs the picture is bleak.  Besides giving in to despair or waiting for an economic turnaround, there is something that aspiring lawyers and new lawyers can do to improve their chances of getting and keeping a job: pro bono.  

Pro bono work is not just about being a do-gooder, gaining legal skills or getting free CLE; it’s about becoming a true participant in the legal profession.  Volunteering your time and legal expertise pro bono will allow you to see “as a lawyer” how the justice system works (or doesn’t), how people interact with the law in their daily lives, from starting a business to trying not to get evicted, and how lawyers make a difference every day.  And since you will be becoming a “real” lawyer through your pro bono work, you will gain the kind of experience that you want to be able to present to employers. 

“Pro bono is an important part of professional development, as pro bono embraces real case work and legal training, which play key roles in developing one as an attorney,” said Marcia Levy, Special Counsel for Pro Bono and Professional Development at Sullivan & Cromwell. “Pro bono and public services are essential to developing professionally.”  

She added, “In acknowledging the skill development that pro bono can provide, we never lose site of the main focus, which is people who cannot afford legal help or whose interests are underrepresented.  When lawyers work with clients who have these needs, they also find that they develop a commitment to pro bono work throughout their career.”

For law students, pro bono may be the first opportunity to perform legal work, while providing services essential to legal service organizations.  “Pro bono and access to justice are at the core of what it means to be a lawyer,” says Susan Feathers, Executive Director for the Levin Center for Public Service.  “Through law-related service, law students gain invaluable legal skills, participate in the practice of law, and are inspired to commit to pro bono and public service for life.  Increasing collaborations among law students, public interest lawyers, and the private bar are absolutely critical in a time of increasing need and decreasing resources.”

Your experiences presenting before a judge, developing a legal theory, drafting documents and examining witnesses can also help to give you an edge over other job candidates or help you in your current job. 

“Pro bono work can help you maintain your billable hours to help keep your job while also providing opportunities to gain or improve your legal skills if you are thinking of making a move in the future,” says Maricar Tinio, Director of well-known recruiting agency Lateral Link. “Pro bono is essential for junior associates to access the foundational skills of the legal practice by gaining hands-on experience.”

There are a number of ways to get involved in pro bono work:
(1) For those at law schools and firms with structured pro bono programs, talk to your pro bono
coordinator. Pro bono coordinators can assist you in finding volunteer opportunities that will help you develop into a skilled lawyer for whichever type of law you want to practice.
(2) Contact your local or state bar association.  Most bar associations have pro bono programs
addressing the legal needs of their local communities with the help of local pro bono attorneys.
(3) Go online. You can start with the Volunteer Opportunities Guide at
www.probono.net/volunteerJust enter your location and what kind of case you would like to volunteer on and you can connect with organizations that need your help.

Probono.netcan also help you find free CLE trainings, news articles, specific cases seeking pro bono counsel, and a wealth of pro bono training manuals, sample briefs and pleadings, and other forms to support your pro bono work. 

For those who think it is cynical or self-serving to view pro bono as a way to get a job, there is nothing cynical about the experience of connecting to a client and serving the overwhelming need for legal help for people who cannot afford an attorney.  The clients you represent are real, the attorney relationships you develop in the process are real, and these experiences stay with you even after the case is over.  And there is nothing cynical about being an attorney with a dream job who fulfills the proudest tradition in our profession: pro bono.

Tory Messina is New York Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net.  Prior to joining Pro Bono Net, Tory worked as an Associate at Fried Frank, where she took on both death penalty and asylum pro bono matters. Tory received her J.D. from University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was involved in the Penn Law Immigration Project, taught Street Law at the Juvenile Detention Center and was on the Board of the Penn Law Chapter of ACS. She can be reached at tmessina@probono.net.

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Pilot Programs Chart Strategies for Assisting Self-Represented Litigants

Friday, March 11, 2011

  • By: Jonathan Vickery
  • Organization: Texas Access to Justice Foundation
  • Source: Texas

 Responding to the rising number of self-represented litigants in Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation recently made several grants to pilot projects to develop best practices for assisting low-income people who are representing themselves in civil court proceedings. These grants, which began on January 1 of this year, will run for 20 months. Within these first few months of the grants, the programs have already assisted hundreds of self-represented litigants.

The Rural Pro Se Litigation Project, a pilot program of Lone Star Legal Aid was established to address the needs of low-income people in rural areas who are representing themselves in civil court proceedings. The project provides information, advice, and access to technology and is housed at the Nacogdoches Public Library in Nacogdoches and the TLL Temple Memorial Library in Diboll. Research found that libraries are often the starting point for people in the community seeking legal information.

To date, the project has assisted over 100 applicants with information and brief advice, and has provided forms for applicants for matters including divorce, power of attorney, name change, consumer issues, and real estate issues.

Texas Legal Services Center’s (TLSC) Self-Represented Litigants’ Project has four components: 1) installing two self-help workstations in the Lubbock County Law Library; 2) producing a self-help video giving self-represented litigants basic information such as how to file documents with the clerk’s office and what happens in an uncontested divorce hearing; 3) producing self-help documents in a user-friendly interview format and posting them on http://www.texaslawhelp.org; and 4) adding an internet chat feature to http://www.texaslawhelp.org that allows users to talk to an attorney using instant messaging.

The video is in the editing stage and should be posted on YouTube and Texas Law Help this summer. The workstations are fully functional and are proving to be popular with the public. TLSC has posted several self-help kits to http://www.texaslawhelp.org. Two lawyers have begun providing legal information and legal advice through internet chats to low income persons in all of Texas’ 254 counties. Since the chat program began in May 2010, TLSC’s attorneys have handled over 1500 chats with low income Texans.

The Smith County Bar Foundation is increasing access to justice in Smith County through a court-based Self-Help Center, staffed by a full time reference attorney in collaboration with the Smith County Law Library. The Foundation is also increasing the number of volunteers who accept cases through Lone Star Legal Aid.

Almost 20,000 clients use the Smith County Law Library annually, and it is estimated that almost half of those are self-represented and low-income. This program estimates it will double the number of volunteer hours provided through Lone Star Legal Aid and assist several hundred self-represented litigants. Not only will it increase access to justice for low-income litigants, but it will alleviate the burden of assisting self-represented litigants that is now placed on the courts and their staff.

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Communication is Key

There are some great resources out there on the Internet and in the blogosphere for divorced parents, especially those dealing with blended families. I just came across a great idea that made so much sense, I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before. A blended family created an email group so that all of the adults involved in raising their kids–a divorced mom and dad, and a stepmom–get all the same information about the kids at the same time. They use the email address as a contact address for schools, after-school activities, camps, and other points of contact related to their kids, as well as to communicate with each other. Here’s the post about how they set up the email account and how it works. (The blog has lots of other interesting posts, too.)

Other online resources for parents working together after a divorce include software and web tools for dealing with scheduling and information-sharing, like www.sharekids.com. Another web page I like is about “ex-etiquette,” at www.bonusfamilies.com. Of course, all of these resources emphasize treating your children’s other parent(s) with respect and putting the kids’ needs first–helpful reminders at any time.

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Judgment Day: Religious Issues on the Rise in Custody Cases

The New York Times reports today that custody fights involving the religious upbringing and education of children are on the rise. “‘Part of that is there has been an increase of conflicts between parents across the board…'” combined with the increased willingness of Americans to marry outside their family’s faith and to convert to another religion when they marry, says the chair of the custody committee of the American Bar Association‘s family law section.

As noted in the New York Times article and this article on the Nolo website, religion is a difficult issue for a court to decide. Issues of free speech and freedom of religion battle with the rights of both parents to guide their children’s upbringing. As with most custody disputes, religious wars are best settled through mediation or other non-court means — and many courts require mediation before parties are allowed to bring their disputes before a judge.

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Divorce and the Economy, Part 3: Modifying Child Support

Along with the other woes of the current economy, many people’s employment has been affected by layoffs or hour and pay reductions. If you’re one of those people and you’re responsible for paying child or spousal support that is now going to be more difficult to afford, make sure you act quickly to avoid ending up in deep financial trouble.

It is possible to modify child support payments, which are based on the income of both parents as well as the amount of time children spend with each parent. If any factor in that equation changes, you can ask for a change in support as well. First, go directly to your ex-spouse and see whether you can reach an agreement to modify the amount of support being paid, and whether there’s anything you can do to make up for the loss of support, like spending some of your newfound free time watching the kids so your spouse can work or save on child care costs.

If your ex doesn’t see things the way you do, you may have to ask a court to modify support. Child support guidelines are set by state law and courts don’t tend to deviate much from them, so if you’re really earning less, you’re likely to succeed in getting support changed. (You can check out a free child support calculator for your state to see what your support should be, based on your current income and timeshare.) But the judge will want to know what you’re doing to find replacement work and may schedule you to come back to court to show how things are progressing.

Don’t delay on this. Child support arrearages are serious business, and if you become delinquent you are at risk of losing your drivers’ license, passport, and professional licenses.  

Spousal support is a different story. If you have an obligation to pay alimony, it’s likely that your final divorce judgment or settlement agreement defines when that obligation ends. If it doesn’t say that losing your job or income is a reason for support to end or change, then generally, you’re stuck paying until the obligation is done.

For more, see these FAQs on modifying child support, on child support generally, and on spousal support (alimony).

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Divorce and the Economy, Part 2: The Housing Market, Again

A year after this post on the housing market and divorce, the situation is even more grim for divorcing couples trying to sell a house or complete an inter-spousal buyout. A New York Times article profiles a number of couples in difficult situations resulting from depreciation in the value of their homes, and notes the trend of couples staying together — or at least continuing to live together — as discussed in Divorce and the Economy, Part I, because they simply can’t afford to get divorced. I’m not sure how much more there is to say about this — it’s a tough situation and these are tough times. More soon about the effect of the economy on couples divorcing and divorced.

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